Google+ Authentic Parenting: Chores: Great Idea Or Epic Fail? (rerun)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chores: Great Idea Or Epic Fail? (rerun)

A lot of parents value chores dearly. They see it as a way to

  • teach their children responsability
  • have them help around the house
  • teach them tidyness

When I googled the definition of 'chore' it said:

  • small routine task, especially domestic
  • unpleasant task
This is why I don't agree with giving your chid chores
  • It's yet another form of parental coercion
  • Your children are not there to be your housekeeper
  • Chores are not a way to 'teach' your child tidyness, rather a way to teach them to dislike housework
  • In fact, children aren't thaught anything by performing chores like a monkey in a circus, since learning does not occur by applying external force
  • There is no internalization when children are made to do chores, wouldn't you rather have them help you because they want to?
  • What will your reaction be if they refuse to do the chore? Punishment?
A little anecdote:
My parents were very keen on chores, most of which were my job, because well, I was a girl. One of these chores I distinctly remember having to do was setting the table. Now, I do not dislike setting the table, and I can greatly enjoy making a nice table for a dinner party.
But since this was my task growing up, this meant I had to do it any time  I as around the house. I even had to interrupt my activities to come and do it. Now while I might not have been bothered by setting the table, the mere fact that I had to do it made drag my feet. Made me stay in front of the TV a little longer, or pretend I didn't hear the call. Often with screaming, scolding and going to my room without dinner - or worse - as a result. I probably knew the outcome of not doing the chore, but being coerced into the chore was infinately worse, and made me refuse with every muscle of my body.

Still now, whenever I am over at my parents house, and it is table setting time, I think twice. I spend a couple of minutes in inner dispute. I don't want t he praise it might get me when someone notices me setting the table. I don't want the 'shouldn't you be helping your mother' when I don't.
Now isn't it sad that every time I want to help out at my parent's house I have to have an internal dialogue about the consequences?

The last time my father hit me, I was 23, married, had the flu and a fever of 39 degrees, and it was because I didn't set the table.



  1. Hi!

    I like your blog posts and this one about chores really hit the chord.

    With chores and with everything in parenting, the difference is whether or not you decide to see the child's point of view. I think it boils down to that.

    Somehow your post made me think about one particular incident in my childhood.

    I had been playing at the neighbors' house all day without eating. When I got home in the evening my blood sugar was so low that I felt nauseous. I couldn't even think of eating anything but my mom knew I had to eat. She made me eat a bowl of corn flakes. I remember looking down at it, crying and thinking "Mom is so cruel. Just wait until Dad and the boys get home and I'll tell them what she made do". My dad and my brothers got home and said nothing. I got no support and felt so betrayed by the ones I counted on.

    I can see now that I had to eat something. I couldn't see it then. Those moments that seem to the parent like "We have to do it this way. Period" don't seem that way to the child. It might not be possible to change the course of things for the child but he sure could use some (a lot of) compassion.

    This incident was not a defining moment in my life. It is an example of the everyday moments that define the quality of our relationships with our children. Do we want to connect or disconnect?

    Cheers, Riitta

  2. I do agree about the chores not being the "job" of the children.

    Nonetheless, when we live together, we all have to do something to help the "community" (read : people living together under the same roof).

    I do believe that asking my child (my oldest, 5 yo) to help me doing my chores is totally acceptable. I do not support coercion though, so I don't punish if my child doesn't want to help me (heck, I don't punish at all !). I try to make him see that I work for the family, doing things I don't always like to help us all, so he usually decides to do what I've asked him to. If not, well, I tell him he might help me another time and I do whatever I asked him to do myself.

    I also ask my 2 yo to help me too, like to get a towel when I'm stuck on the sofa because I'm nursing the baby and milk is flowing everywhere. She usually complies, if not, well, there is milk everywhere, is all.

    Your last sentence made me sad. Your dad has probably a lot of wonderful qualities, but gentle parenting was not on the list. xxx

  3. With all due respect, it sounds like an abusive household was the problem, not the chores. I think a simple chore like setting the table is a great one for a child to have. Growing up, all of my friends had chores to do except for me. My grandmother did everything around the house and my mom worked full time. I think not having any chores made me really lazy and I didn't learn to do a lot of things for myself that my peers knew how to do, like laundry, cooking, etc. I won't expect my son or any of our future kids to be our substitute maids, but they will have simple chores to do to help out around the house when they are old enough.

  4. Although I can clearly see where you are going with this and I share your bad experiences (min was to make salad), I don't think that we should leave chores completely out of the loop. Fact of the matter is that when people live in a house together, they need to compromise and take each other into consideration. This means tidying up because someone might trip and fall over your toys, or because guests are coming or simply because it helps mommy. The same with making the bed, drying up the bathroom or picking up your clothes.

    There are a million ways to make it fun for kids, mostly because they end up knowing how wonderfully helpful they have been and how much it means to mommy/daddy that they helped. And this is not a method of child labour, but simply a way to help your child help you and to remember that everyone sharing space means everyone needs to consider others.

    From a personal point of view: I am a neat freak. But that's me. My husband gets to keep his cupboard however he wants it, but clothes are not left for only me to pick up, or to wash, etc. We share duties in front of my daughter so that she realises that everyone needs to work together. My daughter is 16 months old. I make a point of showing her that her clothes go in the basket or her bath gets drained when we are finished or the dishes get stacked. When we are done playing, we pack up her toys and she helps (in various ways and sometimes not at all). It's good habits I wish to teach her now. For all our sanities.

    FYI - Have you ever seen what a guys dormitory/flat looks like in relation to a girl's? (bearing in mind that I was a student in the 90's) I theorize (from experience) that guys are less prone to pick up clothes or wash the dishes, etc. simply because girls are more drawn in to these types of duties when young (not fair either). It really does a lot when children get to experience effective ways of tidying up, or that tidying up now for 5 minutes saves hours in the end, etc.

  5. Let me just set something straight: I definately think there is a different between ASKING your children if they WANT to help you and ORDERING them to do so on a regular basis.
    I do ask my child if she wants to help me all the time, because she wants to be with me and it makes a nice activity.
    However, I do not think that that is a chore (since it is not routine and she doesn't have to do it)

    There's nothing wrong with a child tidying up or folding the laundry etc... if they want to. Nor do I think it's a mother's task to clean up kids rooms. And indeed it is annoying to be the only neat freak having to clean up after everyone, but the best thing to do in that situation is to try and relax first :) (I'm kind of a recovering neat freak myself)

  6. Just wanted to add, I am also against PAYING a child to do a chore. No no !

  7. @mamapoekie
    I completely got the message you were writing. It's obvious you have nothing against asking a child to help and you don't think that's abusive, etc. I want to give your comments 100% support.

    My kids are not required to do chores although I regularly ask them for help. Sometimes they help (usually), sometimes they refuse. I can't imagine the many subtle (or not so subtle) tradeoffs of the "enforced" chore and I think many parents don't want to really sit back and think about what that means. My kids are 6 and 8 and they will be out of the house soon enough and I'll have all the peace and quiet I need... so very soon, really. I am enjoying the time I have.

    Also, not having enforced chores means I can't inflict my neat-freak tendencies on everyone else. It means when the kids want to play and I want to clean I can check myself and realize it only takes a few minutes to clean later. Sometimes I finish the chores; sometimes I play. Sometimes I re-think aspects of my life to make it easier on me. But I don't make my kids pay for all that. I'm the grownup.

    All told I honestly believe this is why I don't feel housework is drudgery. I have a very neat house and get complimented on my housework. But for me cleaning is a centering activity, not a chore. I'm sure my kids are going to pick up this attitude and I'm glad our family is not built on enforced chores.

    I don't know about where you live and have lived, but in the US having a kid who is "expected" to do chores is a very smug little way parents tell each other they are raising their kids "right". Parents believe coercion and force and all that is needed or a child will be spoiled. It's that simple for so many American parents/carers. They believe children learn by being forced, not learn by example (that is a kind, loving parent who works hard and takes responsibility for their own lot in life).

    Thanks for your article!

  8. Hmm. I hadn't thought about the "paying kids for chores/punishing them for not doing chores" as a part of the coercion package. Good point!!
    My husband is an accountant and wants to teach our sons how to spend and save we considered using a chore/money system for them to "earn" money. Now I've got something to think about!! :)
    Maria Montessori is famous for teaching that kids LOVE to "work" and WANT to "work." I wonder what she'd say about this issue. My boys definitely like to help around the house and we have fun going around with the feather duster together. My oldest is 4.5 and likes sorting his toys and putting things away, but I still clean his room for the most part.
    ANYway, great post!

  9. I had chores every day of the week except Sunday growing up. It didn't matter if I was working on homework until bedtime.. chores still needed done. An especially poignant memory is my step mother dragging me out of bed by my hair at 2 am when she got home from work because I had not lifted our solid oak coffee table with the 20 HEAVY photo albums in it, on its side and vacuumed under it. (Yes there was school the next morning but that coffee table wasn't going to move itself and vacuum underneath itself now was it??)... This was a regular occurrence that I didn't clean up to par (as a 6 year old and up to 12 when I moved out of her house)... On top of our daily chores I was expected to load and unload the dishwasher daily (cause I was the girl) and other things. I remember I wanted to be nice and swept our family room which was on no ones chore list and the pills from the rug (little balls of carpet) got all over the actual carpet. Instead of a "Great, thanks for trying" I got a "Now do it right... you want to do something at least be helpful and get it right".. yea... there was some abuse there...
    Anyway, moral of the story... I HATE TO CLEAN!!!!! I HATE IT! I generally refuse to do it! If it gets done by me you better believe I am in a B-A-D mood while I am doing it and for the rest of the day! Usually hubby does it, we hire someone to do it or we barter with friends to get it done. We have even traded hubby's DJ services for housecleaning on several occasions!

    My children do not have chores. I do ask them to help me with certain things (pick up the toys so I can vacuum, put dirty clothes in the laundry room, etc... but nothing big and nothing on a daily basis. I do get frustrated if they refuse to help out and I do explain WHY I need their help. It usually works. Of course my oldest at home right now is only 2 so I don't get too much from him anyway LOL :) I like to think that when he is older he will enjoy a clean house/room and will help to maintain it. :)

  10. My son is 4 and he has been feeding our dog since he was 2 (independently now, with a lot of help at 2). I think of this as a chore because it has to be done daily at about the same time. We remind him to do it and if he says he'll do it "later" we let him as long as it gets done in a reasonable amount of time. Also, if he refuses we just do it that day. That being said, he gets quite upset if we do it, even if we remind him that he refused and that our pet needs to eat. Chores (especially those that are required for the care of a family member) don't have to be negative!

  11. have to disagree with this one. my mom had me doing chores when I was young, and I was pretty much the only one. She didn't with the rest, and the result is a 30 year old man who literally does not know how to clean his house and lives in filth and a 17 year old who is a slob (he comes to stay with me and I have to go behind him all day and clean up his messes like a five year old...). I have obsessive compulsive disorder, and my two obsessions are cleaning and germs, so it's almost physically painful for me to not have a spotless house and not wipe everything down with alcohol. So yeah, I can't budge on this one.

  12. I subscribed to your blog via reader and so glad I did. I have been enjoying it immensely.

    I love this post and will probably put it on FB wall. It reminded me of my "cinderella" days. As the "strong-willed" middle child of 8 (yes, eight!) children and a girl in a strict Calvinist household (dad was a preacher), it was my job every day to wash the dishes that did not fit in the dishwasher and finish up cleaning the kitchen from the time I was 12 until I went to college at 18. I also had to clean two bathrooms every Saturday (I had four brothers, three of which were younger than me, all of whom did not know how to aim). I remember one Sunday afternoon when I was about 13 or 14, I didn't get to doing the dishes soon enough, and because we were redoing our shower, there was a pipe on the counter, which my father picked up to hit me with. I literally wet my pants. Fortunately, he didn't hit me. But wow. I learned how to wash dishes fast so that I could get back to what I was doing or go on an outing with friends.

    Ironically, my other siblings who were not forced to do as much housework as I, are actually much more tidy than I am (with possibly one exception, a brother, which is telling, I think given my family's culture). I still do not like doing dishes or cleaning the bathroom. I will however, go into a cleaning frenzy when I am angry (aka feeling hurt).

    My son is 4.5 and for a while we had a chore chart and a box of goodies he could pick from when he got 20 checkmarks, but I didn't like the mom I was when we did that, so we stopped. And, I can't really get on him, when I'm not particularly tidy myself!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and a little bit of your story.

  13. no, my children are not there to be my housekeeper, but neither am i here to be theirs.

    there is value in work and we honor one another by taking care of our things and our home together.

  14. Interesting read (I do realise it is an old post, it was linked from one of your later posts).

    I have to agree with the majority of comments. I have no problem with giving kids chores. It is our home (not mine) and we live together. It really does sound like abuse rather than chores was the problem (same again for one of the commenters talking about being dragged out of bed).

    I can agree that the term chore is not the best, but I am not going to try to change every word I don't like (job, work, etc etc). I prefer an environment where we all work somewhat together. My 14mo sweeps the floor with me every night, by the time she is 3 I expect she will be doing it alone while I wipe down benches (and hubby washes up). Working together rather than ordering the child to a job.

    The flipside to your blog is probably someone like me who at 30years old is only just learning to keep a clean house and to cook a nightly meal. My sister who did less 'chores' than me is disgusting. I won't let my children leave home with an expectation that dust and dirt clean themselves...we will all chip in in our house.

  15. Hi there Cassie,
    strangely, a lot of people, even unschoolers, seem to think that not giving your child chores means you should be excluding them from housework altogether. i think that is totally wrong. I think children should be included in life as it is as much as possible - but with a choice.
    With chores, there clearly isn't a choice.
    My daughter was never given a chore in her life, but she gladly helps me cook, cleans the occasional table, will set the table etc. And she's only 2,8

    Getting housework done cooperatively does work without coercion too. You just don't need to expect the same standards from your children as you hold.
    I can even imagine her performing a routine task, if that's what she likes.
    Unschooling doesn't mean there can't be agreements either...

  16. What a thoughtful post! When I first read the "sounds like the problem was abuse, not chores" I thought "AH HA! A valid point I hadn't considered in my own unschooling journey with chores and untangling my past", but I really get the distinction you are making about the difference between a CHORE and HOUSEWORK. (Going along with another post I just read on your blog here about the first child being the experiment) With my oldest daughter, I required her to help me with stuff, and I completely killed her joy in it and her interest in helping me and doing it with me (currently, she is detoxing/deschooling that). I plan to do differently with my younger 2. I will never REQUIRE them to do something, and so they have really loved doing it all with me, and I forsee them wanting to continue with certain stuff they enjoy and feel good at, etc. If they, at some point, decide they don't want to do it (one time or forever after), it will get done somehow, no stress. The key has been to enjoying whatever we are doing -- the focus being on togetherness and joy, and less on what we are actually doing :))

  17. About the abuse thing... maybe one day we'll come to the point where all coercion is abusive, as it would be when you are dealing with an equal.
    Secondly, yes, I grew up in an abusive household, mentally and physically, I am and have been open and honest about that on this blog. But, that doesn't make the 'chore thing' - if you would retract the abuse - more pleasant or more loving or less coercive.
    Chores in the sense of forced routine or not housework bestowed on children is not a learning experience. Period.
    You said it right, Zen Mama, chores and housework are not the same. There is no need to FORCE a child to imprint them with an enjoyment of cleanliness and the likes, just model it, include them when you do housework, don't hide it from them, don't let it become a strain on the family and give them the freedom to decline or join in as they like.

  18. I know you had all of that figured out already Wild Zen Mama, I think I just got carried away by my train of thought

  19. While this is an interesting point of view your post is not complete... if we aren't to have our children do chores then WHAT is your solution to a house that needs cleaning and children who need to learn how to clean it?

  20. This has actually been a hot topic on my mind lately. I recently got custody of my 13yo daughter. We've lived apart for 3 years. When we were together, she had no household responsibilities. She was also incapable of getting her own room clean. I'd threaten to clean it (and toss things) while she was out and she was perfectly happy with that. I don't think this served her at all! In my absence, she was once grounded until she could get her room clean. It took her two weeks!

    I moved out on my own not knowing how to clean up basic household messes (spills on the floor, etc). I was also clueless on cooking outside of the occasional scrambled eggs and Mac 'n Cheese from a box. I guess I was never *asked* to help... enough to learn.

    So now I have a 13yo that groans each day when I tell her to unload the dishwasher. I've told her that I don't think it is too much to ask. Especially when I (or someone else) is washing said dishes. and I am doing the cooking. We've had a 17yo house guest that has had heavy chore loads since she was very young. She steps up to help me without being asked and does the dishes daily because she knows it is expected of her. She is so much more respectful than my daughter.

    So... not only would I like to fix the situation with my 13yo, I'd like to do better from the start with my 2yo. I want to find tasks with which she can help me. When my older daughter was little I was just too much of a perfectionist to let go of anything. I hope I'm more relaxed now. The 2yo already "helps" Mommy cook (she mostly sits on the counter and plays).

    I would *welcome* any thoughts / suggestions on how to help a young teenager become a more caring and helpful part of a household! I don't want her to move out on her own and *still* not know how to take care of herself. She does do her own laundry, but groans about that, too. Plus I have to tell her how *every* time. Mind you, she has only been in our home for 2 months.

  21. See what you describe was a chore in the true sense of the word. I don't so much believe in chores but in picking up after yourself. You want to live in a nice place right? I did the majority of the housework growing up, reason was I was an only child to a single mother, she worked so I cleaned the house. I believe this taught me to clean up after myself. I do my own laundry, I vacuum, I wash, I clean, etc. Now my fiancee had basically no chores growing up besides mowing the lawn (which they still have him do which is extremely annoying) and at 29 years old didn't know how to wash his own laundry!

    So I think it all depends on what you are assigning as a chore. My son is a toddler so he really only is suppose to pick up his toys when he's done, he puts his dishes in the sink, throws garbage in the can (not a chore just something he LOVES to do no clue why) and he puts his dirty clothes in the hamper. I don't find this as making him do something that I should be doing but teaching him to pick up after himself and giving him some independence, he also is starting to get his clothes out and dress himself. He's 2 and a half.

  22. I really liked this post, my original intentions were to set chores for my children, but after a bit of research its been shown the coercion/incentives etc kills interest in activities.

    I think some people have missed the point: I had chores and i do/know how to clean, but so and so didn't have chores and doesn't know how...

    If not chores then what?
    Then involve them and they will learn.

    Children naturally want to be involved and this way they are being taught how to without it being a chore, my 22 month old helps me, hang washing, empty the dishwasher, pick up her toys etc.
    I've never made her do any of these things, I just naturally involve her where i can if she shows interest, which as an inquisitive toddler is pretty much everything. She already spontaneously puts away her own toys, picks up things off the floor, tries to dry up spills etc, all just because I do and i ask for or just let her help.

  23. couldn't agree more! Recently wrote a post about this exact topic, you find it here

  24. Momma Jorje, maybe your daughter dislike emptying the dishwasher because it is always the same. Maybe she would help you more, if she could sense it comes from her ? Could you put up a list of tasks every night for the next day, and she can pick two tasks out of the list ? The list would include things like peeling vegetables, folding laundry, cleaning the toilet, vacuuming the kitchen floor, taking the garbage outside etc... Then she could sign her intials every morning against the two tasks she would pick for the day ?

    This is just a suggestion, I thought about how I would like to run the housework when my children will be older, and I came up with that idea. I have not put it to test yet.


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